Responsive architect: Chin Koi Khoo

Daniel Davis – 6 March 2012

This is the first of (what I hope will become) a series of interviews with computational designers exploring where the industry is going.


hin Koi Khoo is a PhD candidate at SIAL who has dreamt up, and is currently building a full scale prototype of, a materially responsive architecture (video below). Suspended on an aluminum tensegrity frame, Khoo gets his architecture to sense, react, and move, by carefully composing material composites to naturally contract in certain weather, or illuminate in low light levels, or to sense the proximity of a human passing by (the sensing skin for this frame is at the end of this post). This all happens without the external mechanical actuators present on other dynamic architecture projects – like the Arab World Institute. In Khoo’s projects, the materials themselves are the actuators. The work is a continuation of Khoo’s work as an architect and as the co-founder of the architectural animation firm Metamosaic.

DWhat was your interest in dynamic systems prior to starting this project?


Actually my first proposal was about animated surfaces. I though at the time it was quite cool. But when you go through the literature, a lot of people have digitally animated architectural skins. In the animation industry you can do anything. The question becomes how to make it physical and how this impacts the spatially of architecture, impacts real experience, impacts real structure.

DWhy havn’t we built these types of structures typically?


It is of course because of the technology, the energy, and the cost. Building a dynamic structure is a journey into the unknown. For instance, the budget of my project is $3000. What can $3000 do? Can I create a responsive architecture from $3000? Can you create a lightweight skin, that can respond, that can sense, and that can compute. We don’t know, and in the end this project is just the beginning.

DHow will architecture change over the next 50 years?


In 50 years time I would say the computational process will be within the material. So you don’t need anything external doing the processing, it is all done in the material itself. The materials won’t just be kinetic, they will be intelligent, sensing and changing to their environment.

DWhat are your main tools?


Mainly Processing, Arduino, Grasshopper, and Firefly. And then for fabrication, Rhino. The materials are shape memory alloy, silicon rubber with various pigments and additives I mix myself, aluminium, and nichrome wire.

DWho else is doing working like this?

More of Khoo’s work can be found on Cumincad.